Starting high school

This is a guide for parents and carers who want to enrol their child in a public high school in NSW. It provides information on selecting a school, enrolling your child and getting financial support.

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Things to know before your child starts high school

High schools are different from primary schools:

  • classes are organised differently 
  • there are more core and elective subjects
  • they can be larger in size
  • students have more personal responsibility

There are different types of government high schools:

  • local comprehensive high schools accept all students who live in the local enrolment area and accept other students outside the area if there are spots available
  • selective high schools accept students who achieve the highest results in the selective high school placement test. Applications for year 5 students are available in October and tests are held the following March
  • specialist high schools focus on a subject area like languages, performing arts, sports or technology. In some schools, the application process may include a performance or audition
  • central schools are combined primary and high schools, usually found in rural and isolated areas
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Find and select a high school

Most NSW public high schools have a catchment zone or local enrolment area. If you live inside a school’s enrolment area, your child is guaranteed a place at that school.

Your child can go to a school outside your catchment zone only if that school has places available. Applications for placement outside your local enrolment area usually require separate forms and need to be submitted by a cut-off date. Check with the school for more details.

NSW Public School Finder online tool

The NSW Department of Education’s online School Finder helps locate schools in your local enrolment area.

You can enter your home address or search by a school’s name. There are other filtering options available as well as guidelines on how to use the School Finder.

Rural and remote students

The School Finder lists schools within 105km of your home.

If you live further than this from your nearest public school, you can find more information for geographically isolated students at the Rural and Distance Education website.

How to choose a school

To help determine if a school is the best fit for you and your child, you could:

Depending on the number of schools in your local enrolment area, you may want to consider these factors before deciding on a high school for your child:

  • the school’s reputation in the local community
  • its location and how close it is to where you live and public transport
  • its academic performance
  • any specific educational programs or curriculum focus, like catering for children with disability or additional learning needs
  • the school culture and best fit for your child
  • extracurricular activities
  • how technology is used in the classrooms
  • services for students from non-English speaking backgrounds
  • the general condition of the buildings, classrooms and playgrounds
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Enrol your child in high school

Once you've decided on a high school, you’ll need to enrol your child. You should only enrol in one school at any given time.

Expression of interest

Before enrolling, you’ll need to complete an expression of interest form. This is generally done in March the year before your child starts high school.

You’ll be able to indicate on this form if you want your child to attend their local school or if you’re seeking other placements, such as a specialist or non-local school.

You can list up to 3 schools in order of preference. There may be extra application requirements for placements outside your local school. The school can let you know what these are.

For year 7 enrolments at a public school, submit the expression of interest form:

  • to your current NSW public primary school, or
  • directly to your chosen high school, if your child isn’t currently enrolled in a NSW public primary school

Check key dates for applying to a selective high school at the NSW Department of Education.

Application to enrol

Once your child has been offered a place, you’ll be sent an enrolment application form in term 2 or 3, which must be completed in English and returned to the school. 

If you need help with English:

  • the enrolment application form instructions are translated into many languages
  • you can call the Telephone Interpreter Service on 131 450 and ask for an interpreter in your language
Supporting documents

You’ll need to show the school the following original documents with the completed enrolment application form:

Temporary visa holders may also need to provide:

  • your child's passport or travel documents
  • your child's current and previous visa (if applicable)
  • authority to enrol issued by the Temporary Residents Program
  • authority to enrol or evidence of permission to transfer issued by DE International (for international students)
  • evidence of the visa your child has applied for (if they hold a bridging visa)
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Enrolling in a school outside your catchment zone

Schools can accept enrolments from parents who live outside that school’s catchment zone if places are available.

But there is no guarantee that your application will be successful.

Applications from parents outside a local enrolment area are usually assessed on a range of criteria, including:

  • if siblings are already enrolled at the school
  • if you have a child with disability or additional needs that are better met at this school
  • medical reasons such as improved access to specialist local health services
  • special interests and abilities such as language or music classes

If a non-local enrolment is refused

If you enrolled at a high school outside your catchment zone and were not offered a place at your first choice of school:

  • your child will be considered for placement at your second choice, and if unsuccessful again
  • your child will then be considered for placement at your third choice of school

If no place is available, you may be placed on the waiting list or your child will be placed in your local school that was listed in the expression of interest form.

You can appeal the decision. Check with the school to find out what their process is.

If you’re not satisfied by the outcome of the appeal, the matter can then be referred to a local principals network or similar independent body to make a final decision.

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Immunisation requirements

The NSW Immunisation Schedule outlines what vaccinations your child needs to be up to date with.

You'll have to provide an immunisation history statement when enrolling your child at high school. It's available from the Australian Immunisation Register, which records all your child’s vaccinations.

Some children may be exempt from vaccinations due to medical reasons or natural immunity. This will still be captured on their immunisation history statement as up to date. 

If you choose not to vaccinate your child, you can still enrol them without an immunisation history statement.

However, if there is an outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease, your child may be asked to stay at home until it is safe to return to school.

School vaccinations

Students in year 7 are offered recommended vaccines at school. Information kits and consent forms are generally sent home to parents and carers early in the school year.

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Religion and ethics classes

All government schools offer a range of classes in religious education or ethics. The actual classes available will vary between schools but will generally be a choice of:

  • instruction in a specific religion that is delivered by approved representatives of that religion
  • religious education that looks more generally at the world’s major religions and how those beliefs affect lives
  • ethics classes

Parents can also choose not to send their children to any religious or ethics classes. In that case, students attend other supervised activities such as reading, study or homework.

A separate form indicating your preference will be provided by the school. You’ll need to complete and submit this as part of the enrolment process.

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International students and temporary visa holders

Some public high schools in NSW offer programs for international students

There are English language requirements for entry into high school.

Students will need to show they’ve met the minimum English levels. If they cannot, they will have to enrol in a NSW government school's Intensive English Centre.

Temporary visa holders

If you’re a parent with a temporary resident visa and want to send your child to a high school in NSW, you may need to pay fees depending on the age of your child.

However, you may be eligible for an exemption or a refund depending on your situation.

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Transition to high school

Many high schools offer activities to help prepare new students who will be starting high school the following year, including:

  • orientation or open days
  • transition to year 7 programs

Check with your high school for details.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s important to talk to your new school if your child has:

  • any learning and support needs
  • any known allergies or medical conditions
  • been diagnosed as being at risk of anaphylaxis
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Preparing your child

Starting high school is a new experience that can involve many changes for students, including:

  • going to a larger school
  • changing classrooms and teachers for each subject
  • choosing elective subjects
  • more responsibility for managing their schoolwork and study
  • making new friends and dealing with peer pressure

Practical preparations ahead of the first day can help make starting high school easier and calm any nerves, including:

  • wearing in uniforms and shoes
  • buying school supplies
  • planning travel to and from school
  • learning how to use transport apps or read a timetable
  • getting to know other students beforehand
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If your child is changing schools

Changing schools partway through a year can be challenging, whether it’s a move to a new suburb, city, state or country.

Challenges can include:

  • repeating or missing out on topics
  • learning or communicating in a new language
  • leaving friends behind
  • making new friends
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Starting high school

There are 4 terms in the school year. You can check online to find school terms dates for all NSW schools. 

The Education Standards Authority provides resources to help parents know more about the syllabus for years 7 to 8.

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Helping students at home

Your child will be expected to do more homework and independent study when they start high school, including:

  • set homework (revision of what’s covered in class)
  • assessments and assignments
  • regular additional study (such as extra reading and practice tasks like essays and tests)

Developing a routine and having a set place to do homework can reduce distractions and help reinforce work done in class.

Find more information about parenting and studying at high school at:

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Safety in and around schools

Children new to a school area will need to become familiar with:

  • car or public transport drop-off and pick-up locations
  • where school crossings are

They should be aware of the dangers of being distracted when using or crossing the road, including:

  • talking or texting on the phone
  • wearing headphones
  • when in big groups
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Becoming part of a school community

Being involved as a parent or carer in your school can have a positive impact on your child’s learning and behaviour as they get used to this new stage of their life.

Possible benefits of teacher and parent collaboration to support a child's learning can include:

  • an eagerness to attend regularly if they were reluctant to begin with
  • improved social and relationship skills
  • a greater sense of personal wellbeing and security

Ways to get involved

Becoming part of your school’s community can help you connect with other parents and staff. You can participate by:

  • joining social media channels like your school’s Facebook group
  • volunteering for the school canteen, excursions, events or committees
  • contributing to any school council, parent club or local parents and citizens (P&C) group
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If you have a child with disability or additional needs

There are a range of enrolment and support options for children with disability or additional learning needs, including:

  • extra support in regular schools
  • specialist support classes in regular schools
  • specialist support classes in schools for specific purposes (SSPs or special schools)

Parents or carers should meet with their school's principal and learning and support team to begin planning:

  • at least 12 to 18 months before your child starts high school, or
  • up to 2 years before if your child needs help with access or mobility

This can involve identifying:

  • which educational option is best suited for your child’s learning and support needs
  • the school's resources and procedures to address specific student needs
  • any adjustments that may be needed, such as building modifications, visual supports and access to technology
  • key contacts at the intended high school
  • a timeline for the transition process

The Raising Children Network, which is supported by the Department of Social Services, has information on finding a school and support options for children with disability or additional needs.

Enrolment for high school students with disability or additional needs is the same as for all students.

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Financial support

There are several payments that you may be able to get to help with the schooling costs of a child with disability or additional needs. 

Your eligibility will depend on the type of payment and your personal circumstances.

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

The NDIS can fund reasonable and necessary costs that helps a child with disability go to school, including:

  • support with daily living activities at school like eating and getting around
  • specialised training of teachers
  • non-educational therapies delivered during school time

Child Care Subsidy

You may be able to get help with the cost of before and after school care, including vacation care, as part of the Child Care Subsidy if your child is:

  • 13 or under, or
  • 14 to 18 with disability

If you get the Child Care Subsidy and meet certain criteria, you may also be able to get the Additional Child Care Subsidy.

Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme

The Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme is a group of payments for parents and carers of children who cannot go to a local state school because of:

  • geographical isolation
  • disability
  • special needs

Assisted School Travel Program

Families who have a child with disability may be eligible for help through the Assisted School Travel Program.

The program offers free specialised transport to and from school where families cannot provide or arrange transport either fully or in part.

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Get help with costs

While public education is free, most schools request voluntary contributions to help cover the costs of:

  • extracurricular activities
  • additional education resources 
  • attending or participating in sports events
  • going on excursions

The cost of school supplies like uniforms, textbooks, equipment and stationery are generally covered by parents and will need to be planned for in your budget.

Schools will usually provide a checklist of what they provide, and what parents or carers are expected to supply. You can get in touch with the school if you’re unsure.

If you’re unable to pay because of financial hardship, you may be eligible for exemptions or financial help from the school.

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    Government payments

    There a several government payments available for families who have children in high school. Eligibility depends on the type of payment and your personal circumstances.

    Child Care Subsidy

    You may be able to get help with the cost of before and after school care, including vacation care, as part of the Child Care Subsidy if your child is:

    • 13 or under, or
    • 14 to 18 with disability

    If you get the Child Care Subsidy and meet certain criteria, you may also be able to get the Additional Child Care Subsidy.

    Living Away from Home Allowance

    The Living Away from Home Allowance is a payment for eligible children in NSW who have to board away from home to access a high school education.

    Your eligibility depends on several factors, including:

    • family income
    • distance from high school
    • further criteria, such as a medical condition

    Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme

    The Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme is a group of payments for parents and carers of children who cannot go to a local state school because of:

    • geographical isolation
    • disability
    • special needs
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    Scholarships

    Boarding Scholarships for Isolated Students help eligible students from rural areas who need to board:

    • to attend a NSW public specialist high school, including agricultural boarding schools
    • at a school term hostel to access a NSW public high school.

    Eligibility is based on:

    • family income
    • geographic isolation

    Public Education Foundation scholarships

    The Public Education Foundation is a not for profit organisation that supports students with educational needs or talents.

    The eligibility for who can apply will depend on the particular scholarship.

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    Creative and Active Kids programs

    The Creative Kids program is a one-off voucher payment to eligible parents and carers of up to $100 per calendar year.

    The voucher can be used with a registered provider to pay for a range of activities, covering:

    • creative arts
    • drama and dance
    • digital design and coding
    • music lessons

    The Active Kids program provides two $100 vouchers for parents and carers of children enrolled in school to use towards sport and recreation costs each year.

    The first voucher is available from 1 January, and the second voucher is available from 1 July. Both expire on 31 December.

    Vouchers can be used to cover costs related to:

    • registration
    • membership and participation
    • swimming lessons

    They cannot be used for clothing or equipment purchases, nor for travel to and from the venue where the activity or competition takes place.

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    Travel and transport

    There is a range of free or reduced cost transport services available to help children get to and from school.

    Special eligibility conditions may apply depending on your child’s age and the distance you live from the school.

    Check with your school for more information on the best public transport option for your child.

    Transport NSW provides several options for eligible students as part of the School Student Transport Scheme, including the:

    • school Opal card for free travel on approved metro, train, bus, ferry and light rail services during school term
    • school term bus passes for students who don’t qualify for free school travel
    • school drive subsidy to help cover the cost of using a private vehicle in areas where no public transport is available
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    Support for parent and student wellbeing

    Starting high school can be both exciting and stressful for children and their families. 

    There’s a range of support services available that can help encourage a healthy and productive learning environment.

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    Student wellbeing

    Most schools have programs designed to help support students’ social and emotional learning as well as their physical wellbeing, including:

    Adolescence can also be a time where increased consumption of soft drinks and sugary foods could have adverse effects on your child's teeth and gums.

    Health NSW has information and resources for parents to address any oral health concerns they might have for their children.

    Additionally, the Raising Children Network, which is supported by the Department of Social Services, has a number of health and daily care resources for high school age children.

    There are also specific support services available from the NSW Department of Education for:

    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
    • refugee students
    • multicultural education needs
    • English language learners
    • students with disability

    Emotional and mental health

    Starting high school can mean a lot of changes for your child. 

    The challenges of new routines, making new friends and academic expectations can affect their emotional and mental wellbeing. 

    You and your child can get help at:

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    Help for parents

    A child starting high school can mean major changes to your family’s life, routines and relationships.

    The NSW Department of Education's quick guide for parents is an alphabetical list of common topics covering a wide range of subjects, from attendance to wellbeing.

    You can also find support material and practical help for parents and carers at the NSW Department of Education, including:

    • homework and study tips
    • learning resources
    • ways to deal with the transition from primary to high school
    • student health and safety programs
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